Fringe Box



Cathedral and Developer Partner to Appeal Planning Refusal to Build on Stag Hill

Published on: 28 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 28 Oct, 2023

Guildford Cathedral on Stag Hill.

By Martin Giles

Guildford Cathedral and its property developer partner Vivid have lodged a “last minute” appeal against GBC’s refusal to grant planning permission for houses on Stag Hill surrounding the Cathedral.

In March, GBC planning officers recommended refusing the plans for a host of reasons including its harm to the setting of heritage assets, “visual prominence of the apartment blocks” and the impact on the “green collar” forming part of the “landmark silhouette”.

See: Planning Committee Rejects Cathedral Scheme, Almost Unanimously

The plans attracted 286 letters of objection raising issues such as over-development, a lack of details on a wider masterplan, and harm to the heritage assets.

The rejected plan for 124 homes on the cathedral slopes. (Click on image to enlarge.

Rejection was almost unanimous. No councillors voted in favour of the proposal. One abstained.

Campaigners objecting to the planning proposal are “surprised and disappointed” with the announcement but the Acting Dean of the Cathedral has reiterated the claim that it is needed to allow the Cathedral’s annual budget “to break even or be in surplus”.

This week Matt O’Grady, the chief operating officer at Guildford Cathedral, told The Dragon: “Following the refusal of the application at  [GBC’s] Planning Committee in March 2023, delivery partners VIVID and Guildford Cathedral have lodged an appeal to this decision with the [Planning] Inspectorate.

“This has been acknowledged and we are now waiting for confirmation of its allocation to an inspector. When this happens the process of appeal will begin formally, and all relevant documentation will be published on Guildford Borough Council’s website. Further updates on the timeline of the appeal will be available in due course.”

On the Cathedral’s website the Acting Dean, the Venerable Stuart Beake, is quoted on the land sale saying: “This is an area where we have received quite a lot of criticism for not sharing information. I think that criticism is actually unfair.

The Acting Dean making the announcement about the planning appeal earlier this month.

“As many of you know, we are working with Vivid, a social and affordable housing provider – not a profit-making developer. In the contract we have with them, it provides that, if a decision is taken to go to appeal, Vivid foot the bill…

“[The planning] decision is crucial for us financially. If planning permission is granted it will mean that our reserves will receive some much-needed funds as we can recoup all the money we have spent on fees and surveys and the like – and it will mean that an endowment will be established which will provide funds for the routine maintenance and upkeep of the Cathedral and that in turn means that our annual budget will start to break even or be in surplus.”

But a spokesperson for the campaign group Friends of Stag Hill (FOSH) said: “The[original Bishop of Guildford committed to keep the land around the Cathedral as green open space for the people of Guildford. The Cathedral was given the donation to buy the land on that basis.

“We are surprised and disappointed that the interim Dean continues on this path. The Cathedral, above all of us, should be setting an example, not seeking to resile from its promises.

“The application was rejected for many other reasons also: blocks of flats on this precious heritage site are just not appropriate. The argument that the Cathedral now needs to build them in order to recoup what they have already spent battling the community reinforces how badly misguided this plan has been from the outset.

“We had hoped that new management at the Cathedral would take the opportunity to rebuild the relationship between the Cathedral and the town, not to continue to push for the ugly and deeply damaging scheme.

“FOSH will remain dedicated to protecting the heritage of this beautiful site, which is the last swathe of green space on the Cathedral hill, and will be considering how to respond to this sad news.”

GBC ward councillors were invited to comment.

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Responses to Cathedral and Developer Partner to Appeal Planning Refusal to Build on Stag Hill

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 29, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    The dean should be ashamed of himself for claiming this development is “crucial for us financially”. The C of E emphatically does not need the funds. It is one of the very richest institutions in the country.

    If it really has a cash-flow need, it should sell off some of the opulent palaces housing its bishops, and let them live in the modest sort of accommodation enjoyed by their founder, JC.

  2. Stephen Mundy Reply

    October 29, 2023 at 2:03 pm

    The green space around Guildford Cathedral is welcome, but underutilised. Some low density housing built for the long term out of brick and stone for a mixture of market and social housing would be useful and support church funds.

    Too dense solutions are wholly inappropriate in the long-term as the housing quality would be low, become obsolescent and an eyesore on a prominent site.

    It is time that housing of high quality with adequate parking be prioritised. The efforts to get people to shift away from the motor car have clearly failed. So the design should be more realistic about actual transport usage rather than essentially mythical modal shifts towards public transport and cycling.

  3. Anne Stanford (Mrs ) Reply

    October 30, 2023 at 8:57 am

    As much as Guildford Cathedral needs funds building houses around the building is just horrific. The Cathedral is majestic on the hill and nothing should take away this great view. There are too many houses encroaching onto green sites.

    The green area around the Cathedral is needed to enhance its beauty and should be saved for the people living nearby and in Guildford and this is why it was originally gifted to the diocese.

  4. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    October 30, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Having aeons ago spent half-a-crown on buying and signing a brick I feel entitled to air my view that the development is so out of keeping with Lord Onslow’s gracious and most generous gift, that the venerable object of my donation of a third of one week’s paper-round earnings will be belittled by tower blocks all around.

    As was the leisure center [Spectrum] on another of his land gifts, Stoke Park. It ia foreboding of the shape of things to come if we, the hoi-polloi fail to speak up. Jules Cranwell is absolutely spot on. Slippery slope indeed.

  5. Valerie Thompson Reply

    October 30, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    If only Guildford Cathedral would see sense and install sound-absorbing baffles on the pillars facing the altar, thereby improving the acoustics, instead of insisting the Cathedral “retain it integrity”, as they said when this was proposed a few years ago, after the plaster was replaced, they would find that all the choirs would come back and perform there. This would bring them in much needed revenues. There are few enough concert halls in the area, so their prices could be competitive with GLive.

    The Cathedral could also possibly be used for dramatic performances, antique fairs, discussion groups, conferences and other money-making events. It just needs a bit of imagination and effort, rather than keeping on trying to ruin the area with inappropriate development.

  6. Harry Elson Reply

    October 31, 2023 at 11:21 am

    “They paved up paradise and put up a parking lot.” Remember the words of the old song, don’t let them get away with the disfigurement of such a precious piece of land once gone, gone forever.

    Let us not forget this land was bequeathed after the First World War in memory of the fallen – in perpetuity.

  7. Mike Truman Reply

    October 31, 2023 at 7:16 pm

    Unless I’m missing something, the main effect of this development is to substitute high-density housing for the currently low-density Cathedral Close? The only significant removal of green land is a row on the north side of Alresford Road which doesn’t seem excessively unreasonable.

    • Richard Vary Reply

      November 1, 2023 at 9:17 pm

      In response to Mike Truman, yes, he is missing something. The plans are not just to build on the site of Cathedral Close. They are to build on the fields on the crest of the hill to the north of Cathedral Close, and extend east and west of Cathedral Close. And, as he identifies, also to build on the land opposite Alresford Road. So, it’s pretty much all of the remaining green space, bar the western driveway and southern path.

      The Cathedral solicited the money to buy the land to prevent the land around it being developed. Whilst the gift of money allowed that some housing for cathedral staff might be built on the land surrounding the cathedral, it was very clearly a term of the gift that wider development would be prevented, and the rest of the land remain green open space for the people of Guildford.

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